Weinberg to head Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology at MIT

November 15, 2006

Tags: Weinberg LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Whitehead Institute Member and MIT professor of biology Robert Weinberg has been named head of a new MIT-based Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology.

This new center is made possible by a $20 million grant to MIT from the Ludwig Fund, a major philanthropic foundation primarily focused on cancer research. The new center, which will be administered through MIT’s Center for Cancer Research (CCR), will focus on the biology of cancer metastasis.

Weinberg is widely credited as a world leader in cancer genetics. He led the research team that isolated the first cancer-causing oncogene in humans, as well as the first known tumor suppressor gene. His research into the enzyme telomerase yielded insights into the so-called “immortality” of certain cancer cells, and his group was the first to successfully transform normal human cells into cancer cells through genetic manipulation.

Recently, Weinberg’s lab has made fundamental discoveries in the mechanisms of metastasis, finding that tumor cells metastasize by awakening a group of dormant genes that are usually active only in early embryogenesis.

Such discoveries are particularly important since roughly 90 percent of cancer deaths occur because of metastasis and not because of the primary tumor.

“The Ludwig Fund’s commitment to support research in metastasis—the most deadly and possibly least understood phase of cancer—is both generous and visionary. And Professor Robert Weinberg, with his history of groundbreaking research in this area, is a superlative choice to head up this effort,” said MIT President Susan Hockfield.

“The Ludwig grant comes to MIT at a particularly auspicious time, because we now have the proper biochemical tools to make rapid inroads in this research area,” commented Weinberg. “The major questions are now ripe for experimentation, and the Ludwig Center at MIT is poised to move ahead quickly.”

The establishment of the Ludwig Center will enable strong synergies between MIT research groups that are addressing the problem of metastasis through different means. “Each research group will bring its own set of experimental tools to a common table,” said Weinberg.

The CCR, founded in 1974, is one of eight National Cancer Institutes designated basic research centers in the country. Tyler Jacks, a former postdoc from the Weinberg lab, is the Center’s director. Aside from Weinberg, Whitehead Members on the CCR faculty include Rudolf Jaenisch, Eric Lander, Susan Lindquist, Harvey Lodish, Paul Matsudaira, Terry Orr-Weaver, David Sabatini, and Richard Young.

The Ludwig Center at MIT is one of six new cancer research centers being established concurrently around the country by the Ludwig Fund, created by billionaire Daniel K. Ludwig, who died in 1992. Ludwig considered cancer to be one of humanity's great challenges, and the majority of his wealth was given over to cancer research.

In addition to MIT, five other institutes will also receive $20 million each. They are Dana-Farber/Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Stanford, and the University of Chicago. This total of $120 million is believed to be the largest single gift by a foundation to US cancer research efforts.

The Ludwig Center at MIT will ultimately be located within the new Cancer Research Facility, a new building being planned for the corner of Ames and Main streets on the MIT campus.

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